Police to Question Suspects in Eritrean's Lynching After Autopsy

Haptom Zarhum was shot and beaten to death during Be'er Sheva terror attack on Sunday; Acting commissioner: We will prosecute people who take law into their own hands.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Negev District Police are awaiting the results of the autopsy of Eritrean national Haptom Zarhum, who was shot and beaten to death during Sunday’s terror attack in Be’er Sheva after being mistaken for a terrorist. The police announced that after the results come in, probably sometime on Wednesday, they will begin summoning people for questioning. 

The police say they have identified some of those who participated in the mob attack on Zarhum in the city’s central bus station, and are carefully analyzing security-camera footage to obtain full identification of everyone involved in the lynching. 

Yogav Attias, of the Be’er Sheva police’s intelligence department, said in an interview on Army Radio on Tuesday morning that the police intend to charge the attackers.

Before making arrests, however, there is a need to wait for results of the autopsy, which should clarify the exact causes of death and provide a detailed description of the injuries the victim suffered, as a result of gunfire from security forces and during the subsequent beating by a crowd of bystanders. 

Acting Police Commissioner Bentzi Sau said that while it is important for civilians to help thwart terror attacks, this incident must be treated with utmost seriousness. 

“We’ve had cases before of Jewish civilians taking the law into their own hands in different places. In all such instances, we will prosecute those people to the full extent of the law,” said Sau. He added that in the initial stage of the Zarhum investigation, several people who were present during the incident have already been called in for questioning. Later, depending on the autopsy results, the police will decide which charges apply to which suspects in the mob attack.

IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz said the IDF will examine two matters relating to the shooting attack in the Be’er Sheva. In a Facebook post, Almoz wrote the IDF will examine both whether IDF soldiers took part in the lynching of Zarhum and the behavior of soldiers who were nearby when the  Mohannad al-Okbi opened fire in the bus station, killing Sgt. Omri Levy

A number of soldiers, some of whom were armed, were filmed fleeing the scene.  “The existing instructions for soldiers everywhere is to advance for contact [with the attackers] and to remove the threat, even when they are in a civilian location,” Almoz wrote.

In one of the clips of the attack on Zarhum, an IDF soldier is seen kicking him in the head while other civilians are hitting him, including beating him with chairs. 

The Military Police are also taking part in the investigation because of the soldiers’ involvement in the case. Once the suspects are identified, the Military Police are expected to open an investigation against them, Almoz said. 

Prof. Emanuel Gross, an expert on criminal law, told Haaretz that if it turns out that it was the gunfire caused Zarhom’s death, his attackers could be charged with assault or causing serious bodily harm, an offense that carries up to a 20-year prison sentence. However, if the examination shows that the blows that Zarhom received accelerated his death, the perpetrators could be charged with murder or manslaughter. 

Added legal scholar Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer: “Even if a person is dying and the blows only hasten his death, that is sufficient cause for a charge of manslaughter, and if the intention was to kill, it could also be murder.”

On Monday, in an interview with the Walla website, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan condemned the apparent lynching of Zarhum.

“We don’t want to see civilians beating someone who is lying there bleeding, terrorist or not. I denounce such action,” he said, adding, “It has to be clear to everyone that we are not judges. And if the terrorist no longer presents a danger, it is certainly not acceptable to continue hurting or seriously injuring him.”

For his part, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has criticized those who took part in the attack on Zarhum, and says they should face criminal charges. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein informed the head of the investigations and intelligence division that, in light of the severity of this incident, he plans to be involved in every stage of the investigation.